Framing a Dream
New York gallerist DAVID ZWIRNER talks about his stunning new space in Hong Kong – and why he couldn’t have opened it anywhere else
WHEN WE ANNOUNCED our plans to open a gallery in Hong Kong two years ago, an idea that had been developing over many years finally began to take concrete shape. In 2011, during the runup to the opening of our Mayfair gallery in London, we participated in our first art fair in Hong Kong, and it was obvious that the city was quickly becoming a major centre for contemporary art, attracting new audiences and new collectors. Witnessing Hong Kong’s continued rise to prominence and significance in the art world has been incredibly exciting.
When we were presented with the possibility of occupying both the fifth and sixth floors of the stunning H Queen’s building, it was the perfect time and the perfect location to make the gallery’s presence in Asia more permanent. We were honoured to be able to work with William
Lim of CL3 Architects on the project, but it was essential that this new 10,000-square-foot space be consistent with our New York and London galleries, so we collaborated with designer and architect – and my good friend of many, many years – Annabelle Selldorf on the interior architecture. She created an absolutely stunning gallery across two floors, which features four adaptable, column-free exhibition spaces that can be appropriated to suit a wide range of art works. This adaptability will allow us to stage a variety of exhibitions and to feature works from across the gallery’s entire programme.
As fate would have it, the opening of our gallery at H Queen’s coincided with the 25th anniversary of my first space. When I opened my first gallery in 1993 on Greene Street in SoHo, the art world was a very different place – it was a fraction of the size it is now, and the art market was also in the depths of a severe recession. This didn’t dissuade me, and neither did the fact that my first show, with the artist Franz West, which I thought was beautiful, yielded not a single sale.
That first year was incredibly challenging, and, after it was over, I had an important realisation: if I wanted to succeed, then the artists had to be front and centre – they were the raison d’être of the gallery, and our DNA.
So for the last 25 years, everything that we have done and continue to do is driven by our commitment to the artists and the estates who have entrusted us with their careers and legacies. As such, our responsibility to them is to present the work in the very best spaces, with the very best lighting, and under the very best conditions. This is the case whether it is in my gallery in Chelsea in New York, or in London, or, now, in Hong Kong.
In commemorating this important milestone, we decided to stage our largest exhibition to date: the 25th-anniversary exhibition, which we opened in early January, covers 30,000 square feet and spans all five of our spaces in Chelsea, and features art works from the gallery’s many artists and estates. We realised that we would also be opening the gallery in Hong Kong in January, with an exhibition of stunning new paintings by Belgian artist Michaël Borremans.
Somewhere along the way, I had the crazy idea to invite all of the artists and estates we have the privilege of working with to travel to Hong Kong, so that we could celebrate this milestone together. In the end, more than 30 artists and estate representatives made the journey to Hong Kong.
We spent an incredible week together exploring the city, meeting collectors, curators, and visitors from around the region and, indeed, from all over the world, who came to the opening of the gallery and Michaël’s inaugural exhibition
There were many wonderful dinners, numerous toasts to our artists, and a lot of dancing. It was so meaningful for me to see all of the artists and colleagues from the gallery together at this moment in time, where we looked back not only on the past 25 years, as we had done in New York a few weeks earlier, but now also in Hong Kong, where we were looking towards the future.
There’s something about the city that resonates deeply with me. There’s an energy that drives Hong Kong that I also feel drives New York; although they are halfway across the world, this energy also connects the two. There’s a charge in the atmosphere that I felt in
New York when I arrived all those years ago. The energy that drives these two extraordinary cities to constantly reinvent and recreate themselves is twinned with an optimism and enthusiasm to keep moving, growing, improving, to embrace new ideas, new people, new buildings and new cultures. In short, there was no better place in the world other than Hong Kong for us to celebrate both the past 25 years and the future of the gallery.